Health See Inside Fast Track to Vaccines: How Systems Biology Speeds Drug Development Analyzing all the layers of the immune system at once speeds design and may one day deal a decisive blow against HIV By Alan Aderem Illustration by Jude Buffum Aids researchers and advocates were devastated in 2007, when a much anticipated vaccine against HIV unexpectedly failed to protect anyone in a clinical trial of 3,000 people. Even worse, the experimental inoculation, developed with money from the Merck pharmaceutical company and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, actually increased the chances that some people would later acquire HIV. Millions of dollars and more than a decade of research had gone into creating the vaccine. Meanwhile, in that same 10-year period, 18 million people died of AIDS, and millions more were infected. The Merck vaccine failed in large part because investigators do not yet know how to create the perfect vaccine. Yes, a number of vaccines have been spectacularly successful. Think of polio and smallpox. In truth, though, luck played a big role in those successes. Based on limited knowledge of the immune system and of the biology of a pathogen, investigators made educated guesses at vaccine formulations that might work and then, perhaps after some tinkering, had the good fortune to be proved right when the vaccine protected people. But all too often lack of insight into the needed immune response leads to disappointment, with a vaccine candidate recognized as ineffective only after a large human trial has been performed. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.